Empty Chair Project Receives $80,000 Grant

The National Park Service News Release of July 11, 2013 is quoted below:

National Park Service director Jonathan B. Javis today announced more than $1.3 million in grants to help preserve and interpret the sites where more than 120,000 Japanese Americans-two-thirds of them U.S. citizens-were imprisoned during World War II.

“Our national parks tell the stories not only of American success, but of our failures such as the dark history of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” Jarvis said, “We make these grants so that present and future generations are reminded what happened and how the people survived these camps. And we make these grants to demonstrate our nation’s commitment to the concept of ‘equal justice under law’ that grew out of these and other civil right experiences.”


Recipient: Parks and Recreation Department of the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska

Project Title: Empty Chair Project

Grant Award: $80,000

Site(s): Minidoka Relocation Center, Jerome County, ID and Camp Lordsburg Internment Camp, Hidalgo County, NM

Description: The City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska will create a memorial to honor Japanese and Japanese Americans forcibly removed from Juneau and sent to Camp Lordsburg (New Mexico), which was administered by the U.S. Army, and later to the Minidoka Relocation Center. Interviews with survivors and community members will be conducted, and educational materials will be produced relating to the evacuee experience.

The Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program supports projects in seven states. Today’s grants bring grant totals to $12 million of the $38 million Congress authorized when it established the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program in 2006.

Grants from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program may go to the 10 War Relocation Authority camps established in 1942 or to more than 40 other sites, including assembly, relocation, and isolation centers. The goal of the program is to teach present and future generations about the injustice of the World War II confinement and inspire a commitment to equal justice under the law. These are competitive grants with required matches-a dollar of non-federal funds or $2 in-kind contributions for every grant dollar.

The Empty Chair Project Committee is very grateful to receive this national recognition and support.

Here is a link to an article in the Juneau Empire covering the grant award and the ongoing activities of the Empty Chair Project.



Alice’s Blue Dress


Alice Tanaka Hikido wearing her special blue dress and a delighted smile in 1942 at Minidoka Internment Camp.
(Front row, 3rd from the right)

While rummaging through a box from the past that contained bits of memorabilia, I ran across a black and white photo taken in Minidoka Internment Camp, a desolate area of Idaho where we were sent during World War II. I picked the photo up to look at it more closely and found myself returning to that time and place some seventy years ago. There I was in the front row among other little fifth grade girls. As I scrutinized the picture, I realized that a photographer must have been given special permission because cameras were not allowed in camp.

The picture captured a sense of excitement. My normally straight hair held bouncy curls and the girls’ faces were graced with innocent smiles. I remembered wearing a very special light blue dress with a waistband of embroidered pink roses. The material was soft and graceful. Could it have been made of silk? As my memories came out of the shadows, I found myself going back to December 1942, that first Christmas in Minidoka.

I don’t think I believed in Santa Claus at this point, but if I did, how would Santa ever find our barrack, let alone our singular room that barely had space for the five sleeping cots which were provided for my mother and the rest of our family? Decorations in the sparse barrack room that was now our home were non-existent, and the only Christmas tree was in the mess hall where we assembled each day for our meals. On top of all that, our father was still separated from us, detained in a different camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico. There was not a whole lot of joy to spread around. During this bleakness, I yearned for our home in Juneau and the simple innocent rhythm of life. How quickly our lives were turned upside down in just one year.

About this time we got a notice that a package had arrived and was being held for us in the postal area. We were a bit astonished. Who would be sending us a package? My brother said he would go to get it, but we all wanted to go with him. We were that excited. We ran out of the barrack room, past the latrines, and past the mess hall. We arrived breathlessly at the postal office. The package was handed over, and we could see that it had come from our hometown of Juneau, Alaska.

It was from my father’s friend, John Hermle. We just looked at each other in amazement and while taking in the thoughtfulness of Mr. Hermle, we quickly went back to the barrack and opened the package. Among the items in the box were colorful Christmas candy, a beautiful doll with curly blonde hair for my little sister, Mary, and the wonderful blue dress for me. As I remembered it, the blue was like the blue of Alaska’s state flower, the forget-me-not, so light and pure. The delicately embroidered roses on the waistband of the dress made a statement of elegance. It was so pretty. I could remember my mother hastily putting it back into the tissue wrappings as if to protect it from the rough, barren life of Minidoka.

At the time I wondered if I would ever have a chance to wear it, but I was wrong about that. My mother must have remembered the dress when informed that a class picture was going to be taken. She sought it out from under our sleeping cot and knew that I would have a ready smile to go with it. I’m grateful that the picture was taken, so that many years later I could still be reminded of that Christmas.

Mr. Hermle extended such grace to us that first Christmas. It wasn’t just about the presents. A more precious gift was his unspoken support during a time when we were treated like the enemy by our government. We were prisoners in a secluded internment camp far from home, and denied our rights as Americans. There were other Christmases in Minidoka, but John Hermle’s act of kindness made that first Christmas memorable, never to be forgotten. I tucked the photograph safely away back into the box of memorabilia. There will be a time when my memories will fade, but the gift of the blue dress sent by a thoughtful friend will always be captured and kept strong by this picture from the past.

*From a memoir by Alice Tanaka Hikido. The Hermles owned Home Grocery Store and extended credit to the Tanaka family when they returned to Juneau after their internment until they established a steady cash flow.


Taken at 1021 Glacier Avenue in the John Hermle residence living room about 1945. John Hermle bought the home from his Uncle Gus Messerschmidt circa 1937.
Back Row: Marcel Hermle (John Hermle’s brother), Andrew Hermle (Marcel & John;s father), Shonosuke Tanaka, John Hermle
Middle Row: Alice Tanaka, Nobu Tanaka, Helen Hermle (John’s wife), Jean Hermle (John & Helen’ daughter), Josephine Hermle (Marcel’s wife)
Front Row: Mary Tanaka, Jack Hermle